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Doctor Who - Love & Monsters

Well, I would.
Ursula, looking all pretty and sexy and... excuse me. I have to leave now.

At some point in nearly every show's life, we get the format-breaker. Whether it's a production necessity (Voyager's Bride of Chaotica! - produced because the bridge set was unusable for a week due to a sprinkler going off), or purely an artistic decision (The X-Files' Post-Modern Prometheus, shot entirely in black and white), or the writer simply want to see what happens when Victor Meldrew has to hang around the house for half an hour, the results are usually at least interesting - and often end up being amongst the best of a shows episodes. Bringing up the question, of course, as to whether the show's format is usually too rigid.

Not that this can be applied to Who - the whole joy of the show's format is that there is no format... theoretically, at least. In practice, the cliches of people running up and down corridors away from scary monsters are actually, well, completely true - however excellent a format that is. Still, here we have a show that, by production necessity, did not involve The Doctor and Rose much (the team were shooting two episodes at once - and your stars can't be everywhere at once). Did it work? Or was I left with the same disappointment I was left with after last year's Boom Town?

This episode seems to have - predictably - split opinion across the net. And chief amongst the charges against the show is that it was too silly. Yes, you've got the quick cut to Elton John. Yes, you've got The Doctor and Rose doing a Scooby Doo/Benny Hill chase across a set of corridors. Yes, you've got a man at the end talking to his girlfriend embedded in a paving slab. Of course, Who has always had a certain amount of silliness, but it's rarely been this all-out mad, even if most of it can be explained by the fact the tale is exaggerated by Elton, as RTD mentions this in the online commentary. (Some people have asked how they were supposed to know this, but it's a fairly standard unreliable narrator device.)

Anyway, the silliness. And the thing is: I like silly. Silly makes me laugh. Silly is not a pejorative term, in my world. Hell, stupid isn't necessarily a pejorative term. It all depends on how its done. I find silly farting aliens are funny. I find Tennant pulling faces is funny. And I find all of the stuff I mentioned above also funny. If that's not your sense of humour, you're going to hate the episode. I happen to absolutely love it, and get slightly irritated by people who don't - because, whether they mean to or not, they sometimes come off as being above such things. Well, if that's the case, I'm perfectly happy to slum it with the dirty scum who find big tits and bums funny. People may complain that Bliss's face on the Abzorbaloff's ARSE was predictable... but surprise is not the only facet there is to comedy. Sometimes having your expectations confirmed can be equally as hilarious. The anticipation heightens the comedy.

Second Opinion

If nothing else, Love & Monsters was a statement of intent. "You can think all you want," says Russell T Davies to the fans, "that this show still belongs to you, but you're wrong. Enjoy it, if you will, by all means. But you don't own it any more, and you don't get to tell us to stop it from growing and changing, because it's back in the hands of the general public, and we want to have fun, we want to experiment with what this sort of drama can do." He might not have said that, of course, and he may not even think it - but it's the attitude that comes across from the exceedingly ballsy L&M. He's getting torn apart for it, of course - I don't think I've seen such a nasty and vindictive spew of vitriol from the ever-lovely fandom since the new series began. But as much as you may want to hate the Davies administration for this so ostensibly un-Who-like episode (and I say "ostensibly" deliberately, although others have elaborated better than me on how many of the core Who elements remained in place), how can you when it was this bloody good?

I think what enabled them to get away with doing this ep was how charming the whole thing was - and crucial to that was the performance of Marc Warren. From nowhere, he stepped up to the plate to take the lead role in the first episode of Doctor Who not to prominently feature its lead character since Mission to the Unknown in 1965, and he did so with aplomb, making Elton a thoroughly sympathetic, believable and downright loveable guy - cheesy dancing to ELO and all. Indeed, it's moments like the ELO bits that remind you just how much fun they're still having making this - the scene in the launderette's, for example, was completely silly, but still laugh-out-loud funny.

Aside from Warren, the cast were generally excellent, Shirley Henderson in danger of stealing the whole show if only she'd had more to do, a pleasantly surprising appearance from I'm Alan Partridge's Simon Greenall, and they even had the decency to do away with the annoying girl from Two Pints... quite early on. The attention, though, was - of course - all on Peter Kay - and he did exactly what he needed to. Let's not pretend this was a serious role - even as Victor, he was hamming it up ludicrously (sounding like a That Peter Kay Thing character), while he was an absolute hoot as the Abzorbaloff (I particularly loved the line about the name of his planet).

This was an episode so infused with a simple sense of infectious joy, despite its darker message about the inevitable results of having one's life cross over with the Doctor's, that it was difficult to dislike - unless you're a grumpy, bitter sod, that is. It was also beautifully constructed - and the gimmick of showing the Doctor's life intersecting with that of an ordinary guy, aside from being inspired in itself, gave us the fantastic (if a little predictable) flashbacks to series one. It's surely a credit to how well put-together it was, and how strong Warren's performance was, that it wasn't until I looked at my watch and saw it was about 7.35 that I even realised we'd barely seen the Doctor yet.

It wasn't anything like perfect - quibbles would include not taking the opportunity, given the story's subject matter, to make reference to Clive; and the fact that the stuff about Elton's mother seemed unnecessarily tacked-on - and I really wouldn't want to see the show doing this every week. But this episode was always going to be "offbeat" as soon as they let the monster be designed by a 9-year-old competition winner - so why not have a bit of fun with it? If the episode had been a shambles, I'd be up there with the loudest complainers - but when the result is an episode as effortlessly entertaining as this, where's the harm in a one-off experiment?

I love the fact that they actually had the nerve to do this episode. Occasionally, I've accused the series of playing things a bit too safe - not so here. This is a show that almost invites a certain type of person to hate it. And that's fine - because from the trailer, the show will get right back to the more usual episodes next week. You're allowed one in thirteen episodes to go a bit mad. If it was up to me, it'd be rather more. Even people who hate the episode should be encouraged by it - because the production team having a bit of balls behind them to try things is always a good thing. Next time, those balls will be used to produce an episode you love.

So, onto our main character for this week - Elton Pope. In an odd way, he was a bit too ordinary - ELO aside - a few more distinguishing characteristics wouldn't exactly have gone amiss. For all that, Marc Warren carried the episode very well. As for Peter Kay... well, he was being Peter Kay, but luckily didn't play the part too knowingly. If you don't like him, you're not going to like his character. I happen to like him - although ironically, his funniest moment came in Confidential where, standing in full costume and make-up, he informed us all that he was "getting the alien costume tomorrow".

As for Jackie - I remember, back in the early days before the first series, where I moaned about RTD's decision to include Roses' family. "They should be out there, exploring new worlds, not coming back, blah blah blah". Well, first off, what's wrong with going back home occasionally, anyway - and secondly, I wouldn't trade the comedy scenes here for the world, alien or otherwise. (I was in hysterics for most of the laundrette scene.) Perhaps I should have expected there to be a point behind it all - the impact on family and friends of The Doctor being one of RTD's obsessions, after all - but it's all good stuff. Although, like School Reunion, it felt slightly more shallow than I would have liked - although that didn't matter nearly as much in this episode as there was far less resting on it.

So: more foreshadowing of people hanging around with The Doctor getting hurt. Well, it wasn't exactly subtle, but then subtleness is often overrated. Sometimes I like shows hitting me across the head with a sledgehammer. The sad thing though, is that we could have had a genuine moment of shock in the last episode - instead, we all know what's going to happen. I don't mind fansites reporting on things - some people want to be spoiled, and you can give appropriate spoiler warnings. But for the mainstream media to do this, where you can't give proper warnings - it just Pisses Me Right Off. I guess that's just how the media works these days, but that doesn't stop it being as annoying as fuck. As it is, all the foreshadowing isn't nearly as effective as it should be - but then, that isn't the episode's fault.

The whole L.I.N.D.A. scenario is obviously a riff on Who fanclubs - and a lovely nod to real fandom, rarely portrayed in the mainstream media. (People prefer to bang on about acne and Spock ears.) Who fans in particular are rather good at being creative - as they basically took over the franchise after 1989. That's what real fandom is - being creative, musically or otherwise - not copying out episode guides for the 25th time. I was less moved by each individual character's death, than by the fact that the group fell apart.

I just love the fact that the show can be so deliciously nasty at times. The production team may bang on about not showing blood and "scarying, but not terrifying kids" - but they know as well as I do that what you don't see is sometimes more unpleasant than what you do. It just so happens that this also helps them fall within BBC guidelines. I'd argue that despite, or indeed partly because of its silly tone, the episode was actually more disturbing than the last, supposedly dark, two parter. A building with two people walking past it followed by a distant scream is a lot more horrible than someone being sucked out a window - because it's all about what you don't see.

And as for the oral sex joke - more please, BBC.

But in reality, was the show much of a format-breaker? True, The Doctor and Rose are mostly absent, and the silliness-factor was sky high... but you've still got the monster. You've still got running. You've still got horrible deaths. Hell, you've still got The Doctor saving the day at the end, however unconventionally. It was funny, moving, and just plain weird. It's still undeniably Doctor Who - and there's plenty of places to go in the third series, where the show could really break format. And that's great - because in TV, formats are there to be broken. Because often, that's what makes a show special. There's a reason why Back To Reality is one of the best-loved Red Dwarf episodes, after all.

In the end, whether you like the show or not rests on whether you appreciate RTD's sense of humour. I do - the highlight being Bella Emberg's "Oh, that's Rose Tyler!". If you don't like it, you're not going to be able to get past it to appreciate the rest of the episode. Which is a shame, but humour is indeed subjective, no matter how many online debates that statement effectively shuts down.

So: laughs. Scares. Likeable characters. Deeply unpleasant things happening to the likeable characters. Great stuff. Again, perhaps not reaching the extreme heights of brilliance that Who can achieve, but a well-deserved:

4 Stars

About this entry


I really liked this one. It's funny seeing fandom up in arms over it because this was an episode that actually featured fandom! Well, fandom of a sort. I think the setup of the group and then Victor Kennedy coming in to fuck it all up was fantastic. Peter Kay was excellent, making the role tongue-in-cheek and menacing at the same time. Going back to his normal voice for the Abzorbaloff was classic. No-one was ever going to take the Abzorbaloff seriously so it's great that they didn't hold back on the ridiculous. Russell T Davies even having a laugh himself with the script, throwing in the Slitheen reference obviously to rile up fandom even more, and the paving slab joke... Just the idea of her face on the paving slab is funny enough.

What I like about RTD is that he isn't afraid to show people having a GOOD time in an episode of television (see Boom Town for this, probably the most underrated ep of season 1). The L.I.N.D.A. stuff and Elton/Jackie are great in that respect. Somehow, Jackie feels much more of a fleshed-out character now, rather than an annoyance like in season 1. This is actually her first proper appearance in season 2 (a cameo in New Earth and her alt-self in RotC don't really count). I think they're setting up Rose going back to her (she won't die!!).

Screw anyone that hated this. Next week's is gonna be BAD though by all accounts. I'm still praying for the HUGE CATACLYSMIC finale we're meant to be getting.

By performingmonkey
June 20, 2006 @ 3:12 am

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I think you both summed up this ep perfectly, but Seb really hit the nail on the head with the words 'charming' and 'entertaining'. Even though I felt it got just a wee bit *too* silly towards the end (and, like John, I like silly) I still came away from this episode feeling like I'd just watched 45 minutes of really entertaining telly. And this week, I didn't ever feel bored!

I really really would have loved to see Elton become the Doctor's next companion, though. I thought his blend of naivety and boundless enthusiasm was perfect for that.

By Pook
June 20, 2006 @ 9:33 am

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I loved this ep, I also didn't see the comedy running as annoying. It was Eltons story and I saw this as how he remembered it happening rather than how it actually happened, if you get my meaning.

A sheer delight and a baddie with a Bolton accent, class! :D

By Matt
June 20, 2006 @ 10:40 am

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Incidentally, I note that neither of our reviews mentioned Joss Whedon or "The Zeppo" (probably being the only ones on the 'net not to do so), but it's worth noting that that episode was also quite divisive among Buffy fans (although probably not to the same extent), due to the way it apparently trivialised and made light of the earnestness of Buffy/Angel/etc's attempts to "save the world".

And as for something you did make reference to, John - "The Trial" is for my money the best episode of OFITG.

By Seb
June 20, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

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I see the next episode features Penny Crayon.

By Ian Symes
June 20, 2006 @ 1:20 pm

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I think if we attach any format onto the new Who series is that beyond the pre-credits sequence the episode is generally played as the Doctor and/or his companion(s) come to it. Obviously that was dispensed with for this episode in a big way. The problem with this is that it lends it the feeling of filler that is hard to shake off. Davies did just about manage to do this, creating a fairly rewarding episode though

The biggest niggle of the new series is problems with putting the story into the 45 minute format. In the episode, I did enjoy the slow-burning nice good old group enjoyment scenes but I felt it was too long before we got the chase sequence. It was Who, and even though it was a very different episode, the periodical killing was part of a build-up to something that never really reached the high I was expecting, nor really gave me the pay off my patience seemed to deserve. The Doctor arriving just at that point brought the Azorbaloff conflict to a disappointing end for me, it never really excited me. It seems strange to me that the opportunities for action sequences in the episode were shrugged aside in favour of comedy. I could have done with a thrill or two in that opening Doctor action sequence. If we were going to have a more talky episode than usual, I think these opportunities could have been utilised much more effectively and I would have had sufficient stimulation to get to the next bit.

It was good but I was never riveted, moved or amused enough by this episode for anything more than 3 and a half stars. You managed to talk me up 1/2 a star in the reviews but it was closer to 3 than 4 for me.

Also, I couldn't help but find Rose's 'No-one hurts my Mom' dialogue at the end ridiculous. It seemed to be a bit of a working-class-people-stick-together cliche. And what would they have done with Elton anyway? That big question of the Doc's sense of justice that the series brought up nicely from time to time in Series One - 'the great exterminator' etc. I hope to see a bit more of that in the last 2 episodes.

By Rad
June 20, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

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I loved this episode, bar a few niggles in the last 10 minutes or so - BEAR THIS IN MIND AT ALL TIMES WHEN READING THE NEXT BIT. I think fandom's reading this completely incorrectly, and I don't mean because some of them are tearing it to pieces. Seb has summed it up :

"you don't own it any more, and you don't get to tell us to stop it from growing and changing, because it's back in the hands of the general public, and we want to have fun,"

Sorry, but I think this is just plain wrong. I'd put good money on your average Saturday night telly viewer absolutely hating this, but loving, for example, Tooth & Claw. Just like every non-Who fan I spoke to last year hated Boomtown but loved The Unquiet Dead. Just like the Pertwee & Hinchcliffe years got higher viewing figures than anything JNT ever did. Yer man-on-the-street Who viewer is the most conservative of the lot, if RTD thinks he's writing this kind of thing for them he's disillusioned at best. I think many fans' concerns about this episode stem from not wanting another series full of 'The Happiness Patrol' to come along and destroy the series in the eyes of the general public, and to be honest if you take this episode in the context of this series as a whole, there's something to that. I am not for a second claiming that this season has been been as bad as the worst 80s Who, but you have to realise that people are viewing it compared to what was on our screens only last year.

I loved this. I think only a vocal minority of fans didn't love this. But if you kept doing stuff like this you would kill the show. You could keep doing Hinchcliffe pastiches till the cows came home and the public would love it. Fans have this totally the wrong way round. For God's sake, who do you think was watching seasons 23-25 ?

By Andy M`
June 21, 2006 @ 2:34 am

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> You could keep doing Hinchcliffe pastiches till the cows came home and the public would love it.

I don't think that's necessarily true. The public just want to be entertained for 45 minutes. The fans (fans of the classic series, that is) want Hinchcliffeian stuff every week (well they THINK they do...). Some episodes of the new series like The Unquiet Dead and the Satan Pit 2-parter might hark back to the likes of Weng-Chiang and Pyramids of Mars but the general Who viewer couldn't give two figs about that.

By performingmonkey
June 21, 2006 @ 3:44 am

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> The public just want to be entertained for 45 minutes. The fans (fans of the classic series, that is) want Hinchcliffeian stuff every week

My Dad walked out of the room during 'New Earth', but loved 'Dalek'. Fans are just far more vocal when a couple of them don't like an episode, that's all. Fandom knows that Doctor Who has been The Gunfighters, The Romans, Mission To The Unknown, The Mind-Robber, Warrior's Gate, Kinda, Delta And The Bannermen, The TVM. The general TV-watching public thinks that Doctor Who is The Green Death, and don't really care about having those expectations blown out of the water.

By Andy M
June 21, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

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The Gunfighters has to be the worst Doctor Who story I've ever seen.

At the moment, viewing figures have fallen from 9.8m for New Earth, to 6m for The Satan Pit. But you have to remember that the weather has been great recently, and the show's still got an average audience of 8.8m, so I don't know why people are worrying, or moaning in certain quarters.

By si
June 21, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

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It's so infuriating that the series started with the pos New Earth. After the hype for the second series, which will have hooked some people who then had their hopes dashed by a ridiculous opening ep. They were on too much of a high after the success of the first season, so they forgot they had to make good episodes. They let hacks write School Reunion and the Cyber 2-parter and they were so cocksure about the success that they forgot to plan the series as a whole.

By performingmonkey
June 21, 2006 @ 6:35 pm

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"We open with Cassandra hiding in the basement of a hospital."
"Why is she hiding in the basement of a hospital ?"

But the amazing thing is, the plot goes on to make even *less* sense...

By Andy M
June 22, 2006 @ 11:47 am

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"At the moment, viewing figures have fallen from 9.8m for New Earth, to 6m for The Satan Pit. But you have to remember that the weather has been great recently..."

Plus, I've recently moved house and don't have a television at the moment. I've not been able to see Doctor Who for several weeks and that's no fault of the series. Imagine all the people in exactly the same situation as me.

By Adrian
June 22, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

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"Plus, I've recently moved house and don't have a television at the moment. I've not been able to see Doctor Who for several weeks and that's no fault of the series. Imagine all the people in exactly the same situation as me."

It must be a big house! etc.

By Jake Monkeyson
June 22, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

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I don't think people moving house accounted for the ratings drop! I would say the main reasons are the good weather, a number of lacklustre episodes, people getting pissed off with Tennant, people getting pissed off with Billie, stuff like the Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel cliffhanger copout and some ridiculous acting from Roger Lloyd-Pack (the Cyber controller/Lumic), not to mention complete horseshit like The "I'm huuuuuuuuuuuuuungry! Feeeeeeeeeeed meeeeeeeeeee! This is a kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiids pantoooooooooooooooo" Wire and the rest of the crap Idiot's Lantern (I actually liked New Earth better, and no I'm NOT lying. At least we got Billie being sexy in New Earth, and the Face of Boe stuff which was good).

In fact, I've just decided right this second that I hate the new series. I hate Tennant, and I don't even know what I saw in series 1 either. RTD should never have brought it back, the idiot. What a waste of the licence fee. Sci-fi never works on primetime anyway, that's a fact that's been proven time and time again. Telly Addicts, now there was a good series. I'd rather watch an hour of that followed by...a Bodger and Badger marathon than any more new Who.

By performingmonkey
June 22, 2006 @ 8:58 pm

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With regards to the whole general public/fans thing - I think it's interesting that despite the negative reaction from some fans, Love & Monsters feels almost like fanfic at time - good fanfic, mind you. All the recaps of earlier adventures at the start (almost continuity porn), the stuff about "different forms of the Doctor, which come and go" referring to previous incarnations, the obvious parallels with L.I.N.D.A/fandom, and most of all, the concept itself - a lot of the best fanfic does things that the actual series would never usually do, and tells stories from a different point of view.

By John Hoare
June 23, 2006 @ 10:31 am

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> "different forms of the Doctor, which come and go" referring to previous incarnations

I'm glad that this came up. I still don't get why, in 'Rose', the pics were of the 9th Doctor when he didn't even appear in those situations, if you assume that he just regenerated from McGann. I know the new audience would only recognize Eccleston, but it still doesn't make sense. And the shot of him at the Kennedy assassination was lame. He's like looking straight at the camera, and whoever did it obviously wasn't an expert in Photoshop because it really does look pasted in.

By performingmonkey
June 24, 2006 @ 2:11 am

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> I'm glad that this came up. I still don't get why, in 'Rose', the pics were of the 9th Doctor when he didn't even appear in those situations, if you assume that he just regenerated from McGann.

The Doctor travels in time, you see. *If* he'd just regenerated when he appears in Rose, he could go back to the Titanic or the Kennedy assassination or whatever else there was *after* he beat the Nestene Conciousness and recruited Rose. Agreed about the crap Photoshopping, though.

By Ian Symes
June 24, 2006 @ 10:30 am

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